Rob Smith did not know Ted Ackley well, but he was favorably impressed
with him during the three days he interacted with him at a conference on professional
ethics at Poly Tech. As practicing engineers and alumni of Poly Tech, they were invited to
participate on a panel discussing engineering responsibility for safety. Although they
attended Poly Tech at different times, Rob and Ted had a long follow-up discussion over
dinner and discovered that they had much in common, especially in regard to issues of
professional ethics. As the conference concluded, they made tentative plans to prepare a
jointly authored article on ethics in engineering practice. They corresponded and had
phone conversations several times over the next year or so, but Ted then changed jobs and
they decided to postpone completion of their joint project while Ted adjusted to his new
Two years later Rob and Ted still have not resumed work on their paper.
This is just as well as far as Rob is concerned since he has been promoted into a position
of greater responsibility and has little time for the project. In fact, their joint
project has not been on Rob's mind at all for quite some time. So when he answers his
phone, Rob is surprised to hear Ted's name. Calling is Harvey Chadwick, an old classmate
from Poly Tech. "Rob," Harvey begins, "it's Harvey Chadwick from Branton
Manufacturing. How are you, old buddy? I'm calling to see if you can help us. We're
looking for a corporate ombudsman, and one of the top candidates is Ted Ackley. I see from
his resume that you and he were on an ethics panel a couple of years ago. Can you tell me
anything about him?"
Rob pauses for a moment to recall his acquaintance with Ted. Although
he did not feel he knew Ted terribly well, Ted had made a very favorable impression at the
conference and in subsequent contacts. In addition to recalling Ted as a very bright and
conscientious young man, Rob found him to be very pleasant conversationalist -- a good
listener who seemed to have a real knack for bringing out the best in what Rob was trying
to say. At the same time, Ted always made it very clear where he stood on matters.
How should Rob respond to Harvey?
Rob speaks very favorably of Ted, pointing out, however, that he has
had limited contact with Ted. "Still," he says to Harvey, "on the basis of
my acquaintance with Ted, I think he could do very well as an ombudsman."
Two days later Rob is attending a professional engineering meeting and
he runs into an old acquaintance, Dan Wicks. Dan worked with Ted Ackley when Rob and Ted
first met. In the course of their conversation Ted's name comes up. Much to his dismay,
Rob learns why Ted left his earlier job. Apparently Ted was notorious for his blatantly
racist remarks. Several women employees also complained of sexual harassment. When
confronted by his supervisor, Ted agreed quietly to leave the company.
"Terrific," Rob says, "just two days ago I gave Ackley a
glowing recommendation for an ombudsman's job! Maybe I'd better make a call."
"Well," Dan replies, "I don't feel too comfortable about that. If there's
nothing in his file about what he did at our place, I'm not so sure it's right for us to
interfere. I probably shouldn't have said anything to you about this. On the other hand,
if there is something about it in his file, you don't have to say anything at all."
What should Rob do?
The next day Rob is still mulling over what he should do. His phone
rings. This time the caller is someone Rob has never met. "Hello, Mr. Smith, my name
is Amanda Johnson. I work with Dan Wicks. He told me about your conversation about Ted
Ackley yesterday. I hope you will call your friend back and set him straight on Ackley.
That guy is really scary. At first he was "Mr. Nice Guy," big talker about
affirmative action, and so on. But as soon as things didn't go his way, he got really
ugly. One day he started throwing things in his office and shouting racist obscenities.
Can you imagine what kind of ombudsman he'd make? I'm really upset about this guy and what
he might do in a position like that. If you're not going to call your friend, please give
me his number and I'll do it!"
What should Rob do?